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Washington Bets on the Gulf Royals

by VIJAY PRASHAD

In late March, Hillary Clinton traveled to Riyadh, the capital of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. There she met with King Abdullah, the primus inter pares of the Arabian Peninsula. Shortly afterwards, she inaugurated the US-GCC Strategic Cooperation Forum. The GCC is the Gulf Cooperation Council, the Arab NATO, whose members include Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and the United Arab Emirates. Each of these is a monarchy, with the UAE disguising the royals behind a federation and with the Saudis ecstatic to proclaim the benefits of the royal bloodline. They pretend that their great enemy is Iran, but in actual fact it is the idea of Democracy. By any means necessary, the Gulf Arab royals ensure that talk of reform is reserved for the short dramatic skits played out in the presence of visiting US politicians who are primed to preen about the far-sightedness of the benevolent monarchs. If genuine calls for reforms arise, as they did in Saudi Arabia in March 2011, those voices are shut down: often literally, as in the case of Faisal Ahmed Abdul-Ahadwas, age 27, shot near his home on March 2, a week before the Days of Rage that he promised on his Facebook site. It is to these Gardens of the Arab Spring that Secretary Clinton brought the full force of her commitment to Human Rights and Democracy.

When protests escalated in Tunisia and Egypt last year, the Saudis and their Gulf Arab royals gathered to take stock of the situation. They informed the US that they were not keen on these developments. US President Barack Obama’s envoy to Mubarak, Frank Wisner Jr., indicated that the State Department had taken counsel from Saudi Arabia on the process toward democracy in Egypt. When the protests took hold in Yemen and Bahrain, this was intolerable to the monarchs. Rebellion was not permitted on the Arabian Peninsula; a successful rebellion would be terrible, since it would mean the fallibility of the monarchs. Eager to crush the rebels in Bahrain, in particular, the Saudis assembled an Arab League meeting. Only half the members of the League showed up, most of them members of the GCC, and they voted for UN (NATO) intervention into Libya. As the bombers warmed up, the GCC’s military wing, the Jazeera or Peninsula Shield marched into Bahrain and set loose the Counter-Revolution. Money flowed from Riyadh and Doha toward North Africa, shoring up the bank accounts of the political Islamists, with Tunisia’s previously exiled and largely impoverished Ennahda Party moving hastily into a new headquarters in the well-appointed Montplaisir neighborhood in Tunis. Qatar funded the Muslim Brotherhood-type groups and the Saudis preferred to send their money to groups such as the Egyptian al-Nour party. By armed crackdown (in Bahrain) or by financial support (in North Africa), the Gulf Arab monarchs tried to take hold of the Arab Spring.

Things did not go as planned. Absent members of the Arab League were angered by its misuse by the GCC in the lead-up to the Libyan war. When Amr Moosa left the head of the League in May 2011, the Qataris put up for election one of their own, the head of the GCC, Abdelrahman bin Hammad al-Attiya. He was rejected. Instead, the post was taken by the Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil el-Araby. At the Arab League meeting in Baghdad in late March 2012, the Gulf Arab monarchs did not show up (they sent the
Kuwait emir, Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah, whose brother had been emir at the previous Arab League summit in Baghdad, in 1990, and whose country was invaded by Iraq at the end of that year). The Gulf Arabs are furious that the Iraqis continue to allow Iranian aircraft to fly over their country into Syria. The non-monarchs amongst the Arab states are no longer eager to take dictation from the King of Saudi Arabia, and nor do they welcome the military strategy preferred by the Gulf Arab royals for the Arab Spring. It is the Gulf Arab royals who are eager to arm the rebels in Syria and to allow that country to bleed a slow death through an Afghanistan-type scenario. To make the largely peaceful Arab Spring uprisings into the mode of warfare suits the monarchs – it allows them to leverage their own interests and to eclipse the desires of ordinary people to fashion their own destiny.

In this way, the Gulf Arab royals are truly kin to American power, which is also allergic to genuine democracy, much preferring the fig leaf (or not, as in the case of the Gulf Arab royals). In Riyadh, Clinton and the GCC held the First Ministerial Meeting of the GCC-US Strategic Cooperation Forum. The enemies of the new alliance were Iran, Syria and the Somali Pirates. To thwart these threats, the Gulf Arab royals pledged to become part of the US’s obsessive desire to build mini-bases to house its missile shield and to hold bigger joint military exercises that would most probably take place near the Straits of Hormuz, on Iran’s front-yard. As the US proliferated its missile technology to the Gulf Arabs, the State Department’s Frank Rose told a symposium in Abu Dhabi that the US was “working hard to prevent missile proliferation.” To those uninitiated in the arts of diplomacy, such hypocrisy could be disheartening. What it means essentially is that the Good Guys (the monarchs) can have missiles, but the Bad Guys (the Iranians) cannot.

At the closing press conference of the Meeting, the Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said, “In terms of dealing with the region’s security and stability, the GCC countries have been keen on protecting their security and internal stability as it is considered a part and parcel of the region’s security.” The key phrase here is “internal stability.” What that means is that Democracy is the Devil, a greater threat than any that might emanate from across the Persian Gulf. Prince Saud al-Faisal is the world’s longest serving Foreign Minister. He took his post in 1975. He is not as crude as his uncle, the Crown Prince Nayef bin Abdul-Aziz al-Saud, whose experience as Minister of the Interior will shape his impending iron fist reign. The Foreign Minister, sitting beside Hillary Clinton, could not talk of the things that Nayef does. He took refuge in the execrable vocabulary of liberalism, with the Gulf Arab monarchs now committed to “the policy of serious reforms and sustainable development to better serve their societies and peoples.”

A few days later, the Saudi defense minister, Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz jetted off to Washington to meet with US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta (and Obama). All they would say is that the discussions took place on Syria, and on Saudi-US defense cooperation. It is likely that the message is similar to the one given to Yemen, where the regime of President Hadi had been given carte blanche to go after the rebellion, which has been tagged by the US and the Hadi regime as the work of al-Qaida. Sources in the Hadi government say that FBI Director Robert Mueller told Hadi in Sanaa on April 24 that the US would back Yemen “with full force” While Mueller met with Hadi, Mohammed Saeed al-Umda was killed in Maarib in what was likely a US drone strike. The US has also raised the monetary support to the Yemeni military to $1.2 billion. It will match the Egyptian army for its annual US bursary. Hadi is being set up as the new Mubarak of the Arab world.

As the US and the Arab NATO deepen their ties, a Saudi website (elaph.com) notes that Saudi Arabia and Bahrain will announce the formation of an Arab Gulf Union at a consultative summit in Riyadh next month. This means that Bahrain will dissolve itself into Saudi Arabia. The AGU will welcome other Gulf Arab monarchies, but other than Bahrain, the others remain chary. This new Union will be a federation of the monarchies, allowing them to retain their feudal prejudices, but forcing them to coordinate their own Counter-Revolution with much more efficiency. At some future date, Hillary Clinton or her successor will travel to Riyadh for the First Ministerial Meeting of the US-AGU Strategic Cooperation Forum. Whatever its name, this Forum is the headquarters of the Counter-Revolution in North Africa and West Asia. It toys with the imagination of those who truly desire freedom, whether in the streets of Benghazi or Homs.

Vijay Prashad’s new book, Arab Spring, Libyan Winter , is published by AK Press. He will be one of the keynote speakers at the NATO Counter-Summit in Chicago on May 18-19, and will speak at the rally against NATO on May 20.


Vijay Prashad’s most recent book is No Free Left: The Futures of Indian Communism (New Delhi: LeftWord Books, 2015).

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